Sex education is more important than ever, yet schools continue to teach only the basics. If you weren't explicitly told to abstain from sex, you may have learned how to use a condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections — but not much beyond that. There are so many things to know about sex that you never learned in health class, and may not know even now. Conversations surrounding what constitutes consent are everywhere these days, yet some people are still confused. Women who are attracted to women are left out of the sex ed curriculum altogether, but they need to learn about safe sex, too.
Adequate sex ed is severely lacking in the United States. As of Mar. 1, 2016, only 24 states and Washington, D.C. require public schools to teach sex education. A mere 20 states require that sex ed is "medically, factually, or technically accurate." What's more, how each state defines "medically accurate" varies greatly. In some states, it's necessary for the Department of Health to review the curriculum and ensure it is accurate. In others, the curriculum just has to be based on information from "published authorities upon which medical professionals rely." Some states, including Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas, require schools to "stress abstinence" and don't mandate lessons about contraception.
I spoke to Lisa Hochberger, a sexologist, sex educator, and sex therapist at Wiser Sex Therapy Associates in New York City, about what you should've learned in sex ed. If your memory of health class is limited to your gym teacher putting a condom on a banana, don't worry. Your crash course is below. If any of these eight facts surprise you, you're not alone. Luckily, knowledge is power — so spread the word.
Consent Can Be Taken Away At Any Time
Consent can be tricky, but it's important to understand that an initial "yes" shouldn't be taken as a blanket statement that covers all future sexual encounters — or even the entirety of the encounter in question. "Consent exists on a continuum," says Hochberger. She explains that it is a fluid concept, and consent can be taken away at any time, regardless of the interaction. "If the interaction continues after withdrawal has been communicated or a safe word has been used, it becomes a non-consensual act of violence," says Hochberger. It doesn't matter if there was ever a yes. No means no, period.
Dental Dams Protect From STIs During Oral Sex
"Dental dams are thin latex rectangles that people can use to protect from STIs during oral sex," says Hochberger. "To use properly, place the dental dam over the anus or the vulva before performing oral sex. If you don't have a dental dam in the home, you can use rubber gloves, condoms, or even non-porous plastic wrap as a replacement." Now you know.
Plan B Doesn't Always Work
While the FDA states that the amount of research on the subject is limited and the data is too conflicting to come to a definitive conclusion, a 2016 study published in Contraception journal suggests that the morning-after pill might not be as effective for women with higher BMIs (above 25). It's a pretty scary possibility, but if you are above 165 pounds, one dose of Plan B may not work to prevent pregnancy. A single dose can cost upwards of $50, so taking two is far from an inexpensive option.
Luckily, Planned Parenthood has an online quiz that can help steer you in the right direction when it comes to using emergency contraception. There are two alternatives to Plan B — ella and a copper IUD — which may be better options for women above a certain BMI. A copper IUD needs to be inserted within five days of unprotected sex in order to serve as emergency contraception, but it also doubles as birth control for future sexual encounters.
Some People Are Allergic To Latex
Latex allergies are surprisingly common. "Around six percent of people are allergic to latex," says Hochberger. Most condoms are made of latex, but there are alternatives on the market. "If you are allergic to latex you can use condoms made out of plastic instead," says Hochberger. "LifeStyles SKYN makes a great option. Some people have heard that they can use condoms made out of animal skin. The problem with this is that they don't offer the best protection against STIs." That's a key reason to use condoms, so if you or your partner are allergic to latex, plastic is your best bet.
If you are allergic to latex, you might experience symptoms including a red, itchy rash and/or swelling where the latex touched your skin, sneezing, runny nose, teary eyes, or wheezing. If you notice any of these symptoms after coming in contact with latex, call your doctor right away.
There Are Many Types of Birth Control Besides The Pill
While the Pill is a common form of birth control, there are a number of different contraceptive methods. Women have options when it comes to preventing pregnancy from occurring. The Pill is a combination hormonal method, meaning it uses two hormones (estrogen and progestin) that are similar to the ones your body naturally produces. Other hormonal methods include the NuvaRing and the patch. You can also get a birth control shot (the Depo shot) once every three months.
Additionally, there is a birth control implant, called Nexplanon, that goes in your arm. The implant is 99 percent effective, which is as high as you can get without abstaining from sex. Remember that these forms of birth control do not prevent STIs, so it's important to also use a condom or another kind of barrier method during sex of any kind. If the number of contraceptive options feels overwhelming to you, don't stress. Talk to your gynecologist or visit Planned Parenthood. They are available to help you make an informed decision about what will work best for you.
You Can Get UTIs After Sex
If you're having frequent sex, you can develop urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs come with unpleasant symptoms such as cramps, pain and burning when you pee, the sensation of needing to pee even when your bladder is empty, and lower back pain. If not treated soon enough, they can lead to kidney infections. Women are more likely to get a UTI when they first start having sex, and are most at risk the first time they have sex with a new partner. (While men can get UTIs, they're more common in women.) To help prevent UTIs, be sure to pee before and right after sex. Clean up down there before and after sex as well. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is also important, as it helps clear out the bacteria in your urinary tract.
UTIs are very common, and if you've had one before you are at greater risk of getting more in the future. If you think you may have a UTI, see your doctor immediately. He or she can give you antibiotics to help with the infection. If you are prone to UTIs, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics regularly, and tell you to take them when you first notice the symptoms.
Wanting To Use Lube Doesn't Mean You Aren't Turned On
Lube sometimes gets a bad rap. Some women say that they don't need lube because they get wet enough on their own, but a little more slipperiness can't hurt. "Lube is a great tool to use when participating in sex play," says Hochberger. "There is a common misconception that young women don't need lube because they have no issue with vaginal wetness. People understand vaginal lubrication to be a part of the sexual arousal process. However, some women may experience vaginal non-concordance, which is a mismatch between how turned on a person feels and how their vagina is reacting. This is a common occurrence and something that most women will experience at some point in their life. Other women experience vaginal dryness as a result of dehydration, which commonly occurs after a night out drinking."
Even if you don't suffer from vaginal dryness, water-based and silicone lubes can be a fun addition to the bedroom. You may be surprised to find that your sexual experiences feel even better with lube. Just make sure your lube doesn't cause you any discomfort. "Some women's vulvas may react to lubes with glycerin, especially those who are prone to yeast infections," warns Hochberger. "Some of my favorite 'safe' lubes to use include Überlube and the Jelly from Unbound." Sliquid is another popular choice. Don't be afraid to test out different brands until you find one you love.
"Popping Your Cherry" Is A Myth
When teenagers and young adults talk about losing your virginity, there are so many misconceptions. From "loose" versus "tight" vaginas, to "popping your cherry," it's difficult to know what to believe. "The idea behind 'popping your cherry' is that when a penis is inserted into the vagina, the hymen breaks and causes a person to bleed," says Hochberger. "It is a common myth that woman bleed when the first time they have vaginal intercourse. The hymen is a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina. A woman's hymen can break for various reasons before her first time having vaginal intercourse, for example from using a tampon."
When it comes to sex ed, you either get too much inaccurate information, or not enough of the facts. Learning how to keep your body safe and healthy while also enjoying yourself is incredibly important — don't let anyone tell you otherwise.